In the United States, routine evaluation of a newborn includes a number of laboratory tests. These tests are valuable because they have the potential to identify diseases and disorders before symptoms appear and before serious complications arise. Early detection allows treatment that may prevent development of serious health problems.
Congenital and genetic disorders
Various conditions that may be present at birth (congenital) can affect the health and wellness of a newborn. Most of these conditions are rare, though some are more prevalent in certain families or ethnic groups. Disorders range from difficulties a newborn may have processing certain nutrients (metabolic) to problems with hormones (endocrine) to the production of abnormal forms of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells. Some of these conditions cannot be cured, but many can be managed so that the child can grow and live a relatively normal life.
Newborns can be routinely screened for many of these disorders before leaving the hospital using a few drops of blood. Each state has its own newborn screening program, so the number of tests performed varies by state.
Currently, newborns may be screened for two infectious diseases: HIV and hepatitis B. Typically, these screening tests are only performed if it is known that the mother has the disease or if she was not tested during the pregnancy and therefore her disease status is unknown. Some states mandate HIV testing of all newborns. Though the newborns may show no signs or symptoms of infection, they may have contracted the disease during the pregnancy or birth. Treatment can be administered soon after birth to protect the health of the newborn.
In addition to laboratory tests, a number of other evaluations are typically done to ensure the health of newborns. The article Newborn Care in the Delivery Room on the March of Dimes web site discusses some of the procedures that may be included in the first exam of a newborn.
You can also find out more about preventive medicine and the steps you can take to keep you and your family healthy by reading the companion article Wellness and Prevention in an Era of Patient Responsibility.
General Sources Used in Current Review
KidsHealth. Newborn Screening Tests. Available online at http://kidshealth.org/parent/system/medical/newborn_screening_tests.html# through http://kidshealth.org. Accessed May 2012.
Baby's First Tests. Available online at http://www.babysfirsttest.org/screening-facts through http://www.babysfirsttest.org. Accessed May 2012.
March of Dimes. Newborn Screening Tests. Available online at http://www.marchofdimes.com/professionals/bringinghome_screening.html through http://www.marchofdimes.com. Accessed May 2012.
Executive Summary. Genet Med. 2006 May; 8(Suppl 1): 1S–11S. Available online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3111605/?tool=pubmed through http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed May 2012.